I was surfing You-Tube the other day, and found Steve Harvey giving an inspirational message, which surprised me. After a few more clicks, I found Jim Carrey giving a Commencement address. As the minutes turned into hours, I found more and more comedians that were also GREAT motivational speakers. (Bill Cosby, Ellen DeGeneres, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, and more.)
My mind started racing; trying to understand how some of these people who have been doing comedy for 30 years or more, were now able to give such inspiring messages. It had just never occurred to me before that the people who make us laugh also had the skills to make us cry or to stand up and cheer! I have no logical reason for limiting their abilities in my mind. I am a writer, photographer, graphic designer, and web designer. If you think about it, I’m sure you can also list several things you do, besides writing.
The longer I pondered this, I came to the realization that what makes most comedians funny is their ability to poke fun at human nature. We laugh at them because it helps us not to take ourselves so serious. They observe everyday events from a different perspective. I found myself wondering if any of them also wrote books and surprise, surprise every one of them also write. (That was me, being sarcastic, in case you couldn’t hear that while I was typing.)
Now, I’m not saying all writers can become comedians, there are other skills involved as well. But, on the other hand, I do believe we can learn from their undying devotion to finding the humor in almost every situation. It seems many comedians either become suicidal (depressed) or they become wise and share that with the world. Often, they do both. They go through a phase of massive depression, but they keep pressing forward and then eventually, BOOM! They learn enough to change the world around them. Isn't that what we all want, in some form or another? We want to leave our mark, we want to share our gift, we want to change the world!
I wrote an article a few years ago, about dyslexia. In that article, I described the differences between a verbal thinker versus a picture thinker. Most people are verbal thinkers, they have an average of 2 to 5 thoughts per second. Picture thinkers (those with dyslexia) have an average of 32 thoughts per second. They do not look at things as just black and white, but also 64 shades of gray in between. If someone calls a dyslexic person slow, they are just wrong. The effort they put into their thought process is often hundreds of times more complex than ours. If you ask me what 2 plus 2 is I sure hope I can answer faster, than someone working on 986 times 986 divided by 64. If you know the answer to that, just nod your head, I obviously wasn't talking about you.
Many people have the same mistaken notion that to write you must be born creative. They are just as wrong. Most Comedians are not dyslexic (although Whoopi Goldberg is,) yet they learn to see things differently. They literally train themselves to see outside of the box. This is where we can learn from their experiences. I know from my experiences in photography, I tend to write visually. If you have experience in sales, you no doubt have some people skills that you can apply to yours. If you're an athlete, you have a different perspective on health. If you are a composer, your knowledge and understanding of music is light years beyond my own.
The key to being successful in your writing efforts is NOT to exclude the other parts of your life. Embrace what makes you different. If a comedian was to study you for a day, what would he or she pick up on that might make others laugh? Is it your attention to details? Is it how clean your house is? Or maybe how many different hobbies you do have? Many, if not most, writers start writing after they’ve spent years doing something else. For those of you who wanted to be a writer from the very beginning, I salute you. But even as a writer, you are still more than just mere words. You are a son or daughter, a Father or Mother, a male or female.
Learn from your experiences and observations. If you can make people laugh, great; if you can make them cry, even better. Make people see what you saw and feel what you felt, that’s what makes a great writer. Until my first wife of 30 years died while I was writing I could not actually write about those types of emotions. Strangely enough, during my mourning period, I didn’t write at all. I associated my writing as not paying attention when she needed me most. It had taken several months before I realized that her death was not the end of my writing, but the beginning.
It does not matter if you had a terrible childhood, or you were raised by millionaires, your experiences are still yours. Use your other skills to improve this one, be your own kind of comedian and study people. (My definition of a cheap date is to go to the mall and watch people, then make up funny stories about them.) If you want to write, then write. If you want to dance, then dance. Be true to yourself and write what’s important to you.
Most writers, realize what an oxymoron it is to type the words “The End”. After all, that’s when the real work begins. Editing is just as necessary to a writer as the creative process is. Most word processors have a basic spell check and grammar check, so by all means, use that to start with. But remember this is the beginning of editing your document, not the end. There are several things you want to be aware of beyond the basics. In the old days, we would say "that's what the editor is for." News flash, now a days if you want to get anywhere you need to be the editor. A publication will not consider your work if it still needs additional editing, and say "Oh, we can fix that later." You need to present your writing as a finished product, not something that still needs work. With that in mind, here on the top ten editing tips that I would suggest you start with.
In grade school I wrote short stories, a two-act play, and various papers on academic subjects. In High school I wrote short stories, poems, book reports and articles for the high school newspaper. When I reached college, I took several creative writing classes, I wrote short stories, term papers, and more academic reports. Strangely enough as a young adult, I did not consider myself a writer. I guess that had to do with this misguided idea that if you’re not making money at it you can’t truly be a writer.
Back in High school I also started another passion that I did make money at, that was photography. I took pictures of sporting events, drama productions, and people. If you wanted a good picture of your favorite cheerleader, it cost a dollar. My parents were not overly complimentary of either of my creative endeavors. They assumed it was a phase, and I would grow out of it or get over it. Of course, getting over it made it sound like an illness that I had to cure myself of. I did not want to be cured, I wanted to prove I could make a living at doing something I loved.
Since I had made some money in high school with photography, that was what I pursued first. I did copy work in my own darkroom, went into the US Army as a photographer and even worked in a portrait studio for a couple of years. Like many of us, following my dream was not as easy as I had hoped it would be. To keep my growing family alive, I took many jobs that had absolutely nothing to do with photography. I got discouraged, depressed, and stressed out.
After 30 years of flirting with photography; (I still took portraits and did weddings on occasion), I decided to do something about it. I was going to build the best photography website the world had ever seen. In the process of trying to promote that website, I learned a secret. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to promote a website (any website) is to write articles that promote the subject that have a link back to your website. I started writing photography articles for E-zine Articles, Article Factory, and other online article directories. In less than a year I wrote 94 articles.
Strangely enough, it was when I was writing about photography that I finally started feeling like a writer. I mean when you have one article that has been posted on over 3,000 websites worldwide, it does a lot for your ego. The key I found to writing great articles is that I had to write visually. We’ve all heard the phrase: “Show, don’t tell”, but at the time I did not have an instructor that could tell me exactly what that meant.
Although I had taken several Photography classes before, I didn’t start getting recognition until I applied the Art principles I learned in College. So, when I wrote about photography; I wrote about the art of photography, or how to see photographically. It’s hard to write about something you see without making it visual. Let me give you an example from one of my previous photography articles:
“Visit any National Park, go to a scenic lookout point and just sit back and observe. Many people will drive up, jump out, shoot their picture, and zoom off again. This person is taking a picture. Simply put; he will take what is before him and discount all the creative possibilities, because he has what he wants.
On the other hand, wait a little longer and you will see someone who leaves his car slowly. He cautiously approaches the scene with silent reverence. His eyes will explore like a small child in a toy store. He may stoop down low, or strain his neck to see further than his body normally allows. This person is making a photograph. His mind is open to the creative possibilities.”
What’s true for photography, also applies to writing. Most of us don’t just sit down and write a story, send it out to a publisher, and instantly become rich and famous. We write, then rewrite, then rewrite again. We keep fine tuning our work until the reader can see what we saw and feel what we felt.
We cannot be so focused on just telling the story that we forget everything else. The format must be just right, the point of view needs to be consistent, the grammar should be right. Oh . . . don’t get me started on the grammar . . . I rewrote my first novel seven times just focusing on the story line. That was a mistake.
In any event, the writing is kind of pointless if the reader doesn’t get it. The best way for him to get it, is to feel it. The best way for him to feel it, is to see it in his own mind. In other words, don’t just say:
“He fell off a waterfall.”
Say something like:
“When his body hit the water, it was cold, dark, and alive. Air bubbles danced on his flesh, and unseen hands of the current tossed him to and fro. It took a moment to figure out which way was up, and then Scott realized he was still going down! The light above was getting smaller and the pressure in his head felt like a balloon about to burst.”
I keep referring to making the reader see, but do not forget your other senses as well. Touch, smell and hearing are often overlooked in giving a reader the full experience and allowing him or her to feel what you felt. Your job as a creative writer is not to just to report who, what, when, where and why; your job is to transport your reader into a different reality. Show him how to get there, don’t just tell him where you’ve been.